NEW YORK SINGS at Capital Rep, Mar 24. Free! All welcomed.

News Subject: 

Capital Repertory Theatre

and the University at Albany (SUNY) Department of History, 

Researching New York Conference, and Documentary Studies Program


New York Sings

an afternoon exploration of New York’s rich musical heritage,

featuring renowned musicologist Rena Kosersky

and famed Albany-area folklorist/performer George Ward.

Albany, NY – February 28, 2012 – Capital Repertory Theatre invites the public to New York Sings!a lively, 90-minute discussion and performance with renowned musicologist Rena Kosersky and famed folklorist/musician George Ward. The event, which is free to all, will be held on Saturday, March 24, from 1-2:30 pm at Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl Street in Albany. 

New York Sings!explores New York’s rich musical traditions, including 19th and early 20th century folksongs gathered in the Schoharie region, such as “A Dutch Lullaby” and “Billy Boy,” that reflect the roots of New York’s earliest settlers. 

“Events such New York Sings! are at the heart of Capital Repertory Theatre’s mission,” notes Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. “We look at the community as a source of inspiration, and seek to celebrate the upstate region in particular as a cultural destination point, both past and present. The relevance of this exceptional offering in concert with the upcoming Black Pearl Sings! at Capital Rep cannot be overstated.” 

The March 24 event is co-sponsored by the University at Albany Department of History and Researching New York, a conference on New York State history sponsored by the department each November; and the UAlbany Documentary Studies Program.  

New York Sings! is scheduled to coincide with Capital Repertory Theatre’s regional premiere of Black Pearl Sings!, which runs from March 13 through April 7. A play with music by Frank Higgins, Black Pearl Sings! brings audiences back to the 1930s and an encounter in a Texas prison between Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, an African-American woman convicted of murder (played by Jannie Jones, who delighted audiences in last year’s Crowns), and Susannah Mullally, a white academic collecting traditional songs for the U.S. Library of Congress (played by Jessica Wortham, known locally for her memorable work in Boston Marriage).  When Susannah discovers that Pearl is a living storehouse of songs passed down from her African ancestors, Pearl must decide whether or not to trust her—not only with her songs, but also her only chance at freedom. 

Higgins has said that his work was inspired by the true story of song collector John Lomax, a white academic who met African-American musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, in a Louisiana prison in 1933.  The March 24 discussion invites the general public to look more deeply into the legacy of collectors like Lomax. “It seemed like a terrific opportunity to bring New York scholars, performers, and the public together to discuss and celebrate the music of New York in the context of this play,” said Sheila Curran Bernard, who organized the event with Mancinelli-Cahill and is a faculty member at the University at Albany.

Bernard contacted Rena Kosersky, an expert in American folk music and music collecting, including the work of John Lomax.  “By focusing on music in certain regions of the country, Appalachia and the Deep South, as Lomax did,” Kosersky explains, “collectors often privileged that music as ‘American’—a designation that overlooks rich traditions elsewhere.”  For the 90-minute presentation on March 24, Kosersky will team up with famed regional performer George Ward to introduce audiences to the rich song and folklore legacy of New York State.  Of particular interest is Kosersky’s research into the 19th and early 20th century folk and popular songs of Schoharie County as collected by Ida Finkell (whose “songster” or ballad book was kept from 1879-83) and Emelyn Elizabeth Gardner (Folklore from The Schohairie Hills New York, 1937). 

“In New York, as in Texas, Louisiana, and elsewhere, music played a key role in establishing and preserving communities, and it can serve as a lens through which to understand the historical past, both before and after the advent of recording technology,” adds Kosersky.  “The music of New York is an important part of the musical traditions that illustrate the United States’ dynamic and diverse population.” 

Kosersky is planning to discuss a number of songs that George Ward will perform.  While the program is not yet finalized, selections may include “Uncle Sam’s Farm,” a popular 19th century protest song; “Ding Darling,” a tune also known as “It Was on One Morning in 1855;” “When the Stars Begin to Fall,” a spiritual; and “Pretty Polly,” a ballad with English, Irish, and American roots.

A matinee performance of Black Pearl Sings! will follow the discussion, beginning at 3:00 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012.  Tickets are required for Black Pearl Sings!.  They can be purchased online at www., in person at the Tickets by Proctors Box Office, by phone at the Tickets by Proctors phone line, or in person two hours prior to the performance at the Capital Repertory Theatre Box Office.

For more information, contact:

Sheila Curran Bernard

Assistant Professor, Department of History

University at Albany, SUNY

Thom O’Connor

Marketing Communications for Proctors and Capital Rep

Phone:  518-382-3884 x 166





RENA KOSERSKYis a renowned musicologist whose research and music supervisor credits include the PBS programs The Great Depression, Woody Guthrie and Eyes on the Prize. A resident of Schoharie County and NYC, Kosersky has expertise in the Lomax archive and in the 19th and early 20th century songs of Schoharie County, including the collections and writings of Ida Finkel, Emelyn E. Gardner, and others.

GEORGE WARD, a folklorist by academic training, has spent more than 30 years collecting and performing traditional songs and drawing on the rural singing tradition of the American Northeast. A frequent performer at concerts, festivals, and educational series, his CDs include O! That Low Bridge!: Songs of the Erie Canal and All Our Brave Tars: Songs of the Age of the Fighting Sail.   See

SHEILA CURRAN BERNARD holds a joint appointment in history and documentary studies at the University at Albany.  She is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and the author, with Kenn Rabin, of Archival Storytelling (Focal Press). Her most recent film, Slavery by Another Name, premiered on PBS on February 13, 2012.  See

MAGGIE MANCINELLI-CAHILL, Producing Artistic Director of Capital Repertory Theatre, has brought new and documentary-based works by diverse playwrights to the stage at Capital Rep and elsewhere. Productions include Having Our Say, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, 33 Variations,  It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, and for young people, Friend of a Friend and Petticoats of Steel.

At a glance:

New York Sings:

An exploration of New York State’s musical heritage with

musicologistRena Kosersky and folklorist/musicianGeorge Ward

When:              Saturday, March 24, 2012, 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Where:             Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany, New York

Tickets:            No tickets necessary; the event is free and open to the public

Info:                 518-346-6204,

A 3:00 pm performance of Black Pearl Sings! follows the discussion.  Tickets for Black Pearl Sings!can be purchased either:

1)      At Tickets by Proctors Box Office (432 State Street, Schenectady, NY)

Mon-Fri 10-6; Sat-Sun 10-5

2)      By Tickets by Proctors phone:  518-445-SHOW

Mon-Fri 10-6; Sat-Sun 10-5

3)      Online at

4)      At Capital Rep Box Office, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany, NY two hours prior to the show.

#  #  #


Regional Premiere

Black Pearl Sings!

by Frank Higgins

Tuesday, March 13 - Saturday, April 7

Previews: March 9- March 13


"...good music knows no prejudice and requires little translation"   --

Jerome Langston, VEER magazine

The search for the soul of America's hidden African roots takes Susannah an ethnomusicologist, to a Texas prison where she encounters Albertina "Pearl" Johnson. Imprisoned for a crime of passion, Pearl is a living album of folk songs and spirituals passed down from her African American ancestors and their slave era past. She must decide whether to trust the white Susannah with her invaluable songs and with her only chance at freedom. Pearl's stirring voice will touch your heart as will this story of complete strangers united by a common love.

Albany, NY – February 15, 2012– The gusty March winds and anticipated flowering of Spring this year will be accompanied by the soulful refrains of folk songs and slave spirituals at Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre as playwright Frank Higgins' Black Pearl Sings! opens on Friday, March 9 and holds full sway over audiences until  April 7. 

Those with a love for Capital Rep’s signature Seriously Good Theatre series won’t want to miss this uplifting dramatic tale of two very different women, each on her own journey toward happiness, and the friendship that unites and guides them.

Bringing Higgins’ play to Albany has been a dream come true for Capital Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill:  MAGGIE QUOTE?

It’s a story that sweeps us into its unfolding until the final line.”

Intelligent, Riveting Theatre

Imprisoned for murder, Alberta "Pearl" Johnson is the living storehouse of songs passed down from her African-American ancestors. When Library of Congress song collector Susannah Mullally finds her, Pearl must decide whether to entrust the woman not only with the songs of her ancestors, but with her only chance at freedom. The women's stirring a capella songs touch the soul, as will the story of two strangers united by a common cause.  

Bonnie Jones, who delighted audiences in Capital Rep’s producton of Crowns last season is featured in the role of Pearl. Making her Capital Rep debut, Jessica Wortham will perform the role of Susannah. Together, they appeared in San Jose Repertory Theatre's much-lauded Black Pearl Sings!  production in 2010.

Black Pearl Sings!  is a co-production with Virginia Stage Company at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, VA., Following a run at VSA, the cast and creative team, led by Director Patrick Mullins, will travel to Albany and produce the show from March 9 to April 7, 2012.

Black Pearl Sings!  received its first workshop production at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon in 2006 prior to its 2007 premiere in Houston. It has become a favorite at theaters around the country and has played at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The unfolding story Includes renditions of old field songs, early blues, spirituals and gutbucket blues. These vocal artifacts remind us that music has the power to help heal in the struggle between out collective past and our desire for individual histories. Songs include "This Little Light of Mine," "Kum Ba Yah," "Little Sally Walker" and more, most performed in their original folk versions. At one point in the show, the audience is invited to sing along.

Playwright Higgins emphasizes that Black Pearl Sings!  is very much "a play with music," not a musical. In fact, the songs are performed without accompaniment. The only musical instrument, other than the human voice, is an autoharp.

About the Playwright

Frank Higgins is the author of The Sweet By ‘n’ By, which was produced with Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow. His play Black Pearl Sings!  has been one of the most produced plays in the country over the past two seasons, and several scenes from his play Gunplay were read on Capitol Hill prior to Congress’ passage of the “Brady Bill.” Mr. Higgins’ play Miracles has been produced at major regional theatres and was optioned for Broadway, while his musical play WMKS: Where Music Kills Sorrow has also run at major regional theatres. Plays for young audiences includeThe Slave Dancer’s Choice, Anansi the Spider and the Middle Passage, as well as The Country of the Blind, an adaptation of the short story by H.G. Wells. Mr. Higgins teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

According to Higgins, “[He] first became interested in the old folk songs and ballads when I traveled through the Appalachian Mountains.

"I've always been fascinated by what is authentic and what isn't. Is there a tendency that many people of all backgrounds have to romanticize their cultural past and the pasts of others? The question of finding the true roots of a culture is a mystery as complicated as any."

Higgins said that Pearl is a fictional character inspired by the real-life story of blues legend Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter. Lead Belly was in prison, too, and became famous when he was discovered and promoted by John and Alan Lomax, father-and-son folk-music collectors.

The main reason Higgins switched genders is because "women are the matriarchs of any culture. They are the ones who sang the songs to the children," he said.

"Women are more likely to carry on the songs of a culture."

Running Time: 2 Hours 15 min

Special Events for Black Pearl Sings

Opening Night: Tuesday, March 13th

•  Pre-Show- Live Music entertainment with special guest and area gospel singer, Ms. Shereen Moore

•  Post Show Reception- Dessert and Champagne Toast - Following the show in the café, join us for an introduction by Capital Repertory Producing Artistic Director, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill of the cast and company.

Chef's Table Nighthosted by 677 Prime - Tuesday, March 20thone of the most popular nights at Capital Repertory Theatre, where downtown Albany restaurants provide a marvelous spread of their cuisine. This night also provides live music entertainment with a pre-show live performance in the lobby.

Discussion Nights- Wednesday, March 21 and Wednesday, March 28 a post-show discussion with the cast.

Behind-The-Scenes with Maggie- Sunday, April 1st, a pre-show discussion with Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill and special guest. Continental breakfast with juice and coffee is provided.

Early Bird Previews- Friday, March 9, Saturday, March 10 and Sunday, March 11 Be among the first to see each play before it is reviewed by the press.

On Sale Now!

Tickets prices to Black Pearl Sings! are: 

·         WEEKENDS: $20, $40, $50 &, $60

·         WEEKDAYS: $20, $30, $40 & $50

·         STUDENTS: $16 (WITH ID)

Three ways to buy tickets

1. In person at the Tickets by Proctors Box Office (432 State St., Schenectady, NY 12305)

•             Mon – Fri: 10am – 6pm

•             Sat – Sun: 10am – 5pm

•             Or at the Capital Rep Box Office 2 hours prior to each show

2. On the phone, call Tickets by Proctors  (518) 445-SHOW

·         Mon – Fri: 10am – 6pm

·         Sat – Sun: 10am – 5pm

3. Online at

Curtain Times:Tues – Thurs: 7:30pm

·         Friday: 8:00pm

·         Saturday: 3:00pm & 8:00pm

·         Sunday: 2:00pm

The Cast

JANNIE JONES(Pearl) appeared in Capital Rep’s production of Crowns last season. She recently received critical acclaim for her performance in Hair Spray as Motomouth at the NC Theatre, Juneteenth Legacy Theatre’s August Wilison’s Women, which garnered her an Audelco Award and for Black Pearl Sings at San Jose Repertory Company for which she recently won a Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for Best Actress. She has also received critical acclaim for her role of Sylvia in the National Broadway tour of All Shook Up. Her Broadway and off Broadway credits include The Full Monty, Mama I Want To Sing and Faith’s Journey.

Other credits include Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope (NC Black Rep), Crowns (Cincinnati Playhouse & Repertory Theatre of St. Louis) Grafton City Blues (Milwaukee
Rep) Beehive (Arkansas Rep), Hair (as Dionne), Steppin’ Out (music of Irving Berline), Too Darn Hot (music of Cole Porter), All Night Strut, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues and Motown Cabaret (Florida Studio Theatre) and Ain’t Misbehavin (The Riverside Theatre). Jannie has toured nationally and internationally to more than 23 countries.

Her television credits includes daytime soaps operas: All My Children and The Guiding Light, Sitcoms: Martin & Sinbad and commercials and print modeling. She has performed the concert version of Kiss Me Kate with the Staten Island Philharmonic Orchestra and in concert at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden with famed Spanish legend Raphael. She can be heard on Teddy Pendergras’ lastest release, Say It and on the last hit CD of the late, great Barry White in Practice What You Preach.

JESSICA WORTHAM(Susannah) is thrilled to be making her Capital Repertory Theatre debut. Regional Theatre credits include Black Pearl Sings! at San Jose Repertory Theater (Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award); David Mamet’s Boston Marriage at Capital Repertory Theater; The Ruby Sunrise, Merry Wives of Windsor and A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Company; Crime and Punishment, Twelfth Night, A Christmas Story, Dracula, and the Humana Festival premieres of The Ruby Sunrise, No. 11 (Blue and White) and Back Story, all for Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Her New York theatre credits include Green Girl and On The Threshold at the Public Theater; Bone Portraits at Soho Rep/Walkerspace. Internationally, she has appeared in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the English Theatre Frankfurt and Crimes of the Heart at Vienna’s English Theatre.

Ms. Wortham holds an MFA from Brown University and is a proud graduate of Centre College.


Capital Repertory Theatre has a rich, local history of excellent entertainment and strong community relationships. Established in 1981, it came into existence through the dedication and perseverance of a group of Albany business, community and civic leaders. Donated labor, materials and expertise transformed the Grand Cash Market, an abandoned supermarket at 111 North Pearl Street, into what was to become the home of Albany's first professional resident theatre.

Outreach was made to The League of Theatre Artists, a group of diverse actors, directors and playwrights, who spent summers at Art Awareness in Lexington, New York. Working together, these artists, community leaders and an army of volunteers founded Capital Repertory Company. This initial investment of time and resources created what is now the highly acclaimed, award-winning Capital Repertory Theatre with an annual operating budget of $2.3 million, and a history of producing more than 5,000 performances employing more than 1,500 professional artists.

In the past 30 years, the facility on North Pearl Street has been renovated several times, and now includes a 286-seat theatre, a café space, a costume-making shop, and a rehearsal hall. In addition to returning more than 83% of its operating budget directly back to the local community, Capital Rep brings vitality and commerce to downtown in the form of more than 75,000 diners, shoppers, and tourists, serving as an economic engine in the entertainment district on North Pearl Street.

At the core of Capital Repertory Theatre's mission is "to create meaningful theatre with an authentic connection to the community we serve" in pursuit of these goals:

•              to provide significant, high-quality theatre for all people of the Capital Region,

•              to ensure that every student in the 14-county Capital Region experiences live theatre before high school graduation,

•              to take a leadership role in defining New York's Upper Hudson-Mohawk Valley as a cultural destination point, and

•              to make Capital Repertory Theatre synonymous with quality in every aspect of the organization: actors, productions, education programs, customer service, and civic leadership.

In all programs and services, Capital Repertory Theatre reflects its mission by embracing its community as a source of inspiration. Capital Rep embraces cast, crew and audiences from every background to expand the horizons of thought and understanding of the human condition through the power of theatre.

Capital Repertory Theatre is a professional, not-for-profit cultural organization, and the only member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) within fourteen counties of the Upper Hudson-Mohawk Valley.

As a proud member of LORT, an esteemed organization that promotes the positive impact of theatres in the arts and communities nationwide, Capital Rep is able to create excellent opportunities for both up-and-coming and seasoned theatre professionals. Today, these affiliated theatres provide artists with a support system for developing new work, as well as reviving classics and perennial favorites. LORT members strive to provide hundreds of thousands of people with the opportunity to experience the highest caliber of performance right in their own communities.  For more information about LORT, please visit

NYSCA Support

Capital Repertory Theatre receives general support from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State's 62 counties.

- Black Pearl Sings! -